Bruce Sterling responds to Marius Watz's take on Sterling's manifesto about the "New Aesthetic" movement. Sterling is enthusiastic about Watz's views, and begins to move the discussion of "New Aesthetics" from total abstractions to slightly more concrete abstractions. If Sterling's earlier, dense missive left you somewhat mystified, this one might help you unpack things somewhat.
So let’s consider “bad tech-art.” What does it look like? Well, it is, commonly, some poorly-designed, haywire, deeply private, almost chaotic device and/or installation — accompanied by a long, vague exegesis about its huge significance. This artwork barely fun ctions, communicates badly to people, is opaque to interpretation, breaks down frequently, and is generally accompanied by a tortured justification direct from the artist himself.
That is the melancholy spectacle of an art-hacker isolated by his hardware. He has never been able to mentally place his artwork within a context of similar creative activity. He or she is a one-person artistic Long-Tail.
His artwork has failed to get social traction, because, although it’s plenty weird, this creative is poorly-socialized. He’s a pioneer, not a native. He’s a Robinson Crusoe in goatskins, and despite the fact that his IQ is high enough to boil lead, he’s easily classifiable as a weirdly ingenious derelict marooned on some tiny island.
That island that consist of his hard-won private expertise in, for instance, building drawing-machines out of British ex-military gunsights. This hacker-artist-crackpot-inventor is hung-up on the bit-twiddling hack minutiae — most of which he had to invent, all by himself, in a splendid isolation.
He had no ready way to learn, for instance, that he isn’t “new,” because Jean Tinguely did “kinetic art” and “metamechanics” in the mid-20th century. He didn’t Google Jean Tinguely. He didn’t drop by the Jean Tinguely Tumblr. Congenial Swiss fans of Jean Tinguely on the network did not get him up to speed. Not being a digital native, he was entirely busy with the Crusoe crescent wrench, and never developed such healthy modern habits. He lacked tech-art scenius. He never got critical mass.
Now, this bad tech-artist knows that his homemade device doesn’t work very well. In fact, he’ll make a fetish of that defect, leaving it snarled in frazzled wire so that it looks more Bohemian, somehow. However, since he lacks an aesthetic to give his efforts some rigor and context, he retreats into bad metaphysics. He’ll rename his installation as the “Cosmic Mental Synchronizer” — some far-fetched breach of taste along that line.
I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.